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review 2015-12-20 02:36
The Legend of the Morning Star by Elizabeth McCoy
The Legend of the Morning Star - Elizabeth McCoy

I'm not sure what you'd call this. A fantasy world's folktale? Myth? Anyway, “The Legend of the Morning Star” is the story of how Kiro, the servant of the sun god Alyyon, fell in love with a beautiful human girl named Kasinda and defied his master. It also tells the story of how a particular star came to be created. It's set in the same universe as McCoy's story “The Bear Prince,” which means it'd be a story characters in McCoy's Lord Alchemist series might tell each other. However, it's not necessary to have read any of that in order to enjoy this story.

I can't really say much about this except that I really enjoyed it and think it's better than the fantasy folktales/fairy tales in McCoy's The Bear Prince collection. And, unlike that collection, this story is free.

Also, although it was jarring at first, I loved that the narrator occasionally interrupted the story in order to make a few comments. It gave me a mental vision of someone talking to a Lord Alchemist series version of the Brothers Grimm.


The story ends with an “author's afterword” that confirms that, yes, this does take place in the same world as “The Bear Prince.” Also, there's a tiny “about the narrator” section that gives the story's narrator a name. I thought the narrator, Ches, was maybe in Herb-Wife, but I wasn't able to find that character. However, Kessa and Iathor did have a Wind priest at their wedding.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-03-13 05:04
Catati Test (short story) by Misty White
Catati Test - Misty White

This was one of my freebie downloads. The next few entries in the series are just as short (about 5,000 words) and about a dollar each, so I was curious to see whether they'd be worth it. The short answer is: I think I'll pass.

The Catati first made contact with humans when Tammy was in high school. By the time she was ready for college, the Catati had decided to allow humans to take the entrance exam to get into one of their schools. Tammy was overjoyed to be one of the first humans to attend the Catati school, until she kept failing a class that Catati children passed with ease. After her most recent failure, Tammy chats with Yakí, her Catati friend, and realizes to her horror that the Catati must have given humans an easier version of the entrance exam.

The one thing I liked about this story was Yakí. He seemed to be very laid-back and kind, and he was certainly far more patient with Tammy than I would have been. Human-Catati relations must be pretty good if Tammy can yell at her friend without worrying about causing an interplanetary (intergalactic?) incident.

Now for the rest. Although the writing was mostly easy to follow, there were a few sentences I had to reread several times. For example:


“With an expression she understood to be humored, Yakí shook his head in assent.” (9)


Should “humored” have been “humor”? Or was Yakí humoring her?

The lack of detailed descriptions bugged me, too. I knew that Yakí's skin and hair were golden brown, he had bony ridges on his cheekbones, and his eyes were silver. Unless I missed it, no other details about Catati appearance were mentioned. I think I was supposed to assume that they were humanoid, with faces much like those of humans, except their body language was so radically different that I didn't feel like those were safe assumptions.

In the end, it was Tammy who led to my decision not to continue reading this series. While I wouldn't mind reading more about Yakí, I'm not sure I could deal with more stories starring Tammy. She bothered me right from the beginning, when she literally beat her head against a tree in frustration.

For some odd reason, Tammy saw love and romance in everything. When Yakí was nice and offered to let her try Catati food, something no other human had ever been allowed to do, Tammy's first thought was that, if he were human, she'd think Yakí had a crush on her. I have no idea how she came to that conclusion, just like I have no idea why she asked Yakí if he was in love with a Catati woman he happened to be looking at. I have a feeling that at least some of Tammy's leaps of logic were meant to pave the way for the romance at the end of the story, but it was awkward and made Tammy seem foolishly prone to assumptions for someone who might end up being the first human intern on a Catati spaceship.

I'll finish off with the stuff that made me flinch. At one point, Yakí mentioned that he didn't have the near-photographic memory that most of his people possessed, and that he therefore wasn't passing his exams as quickly and easily as most Catati. I did not expect this to lead to another Catati referring to him as “retarded" in a derogatory sense. I would love to know how aliens who don't understand the meaning of "aye" added "retarded" to their English vocabulary. Even worse, later on Tammy admitted to herself that she loves Yakí:


“She was in love with an alien. A retarded alien.
...Well, she could’ve done worse.” (13)


Well, I wish Yakí had done better.

If the stories dropped Tammy and/or introduced a different human protagonist, I might have considered trying another one, but the descriptions tell me Tammy sticks around and she and Yakí eventually get married. Ugh, no.


The story ends a few pages early and continues with an excerpt from "Yatorun Transport," the next entry in the series.

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review 2015-02-24 19:14
Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset by Sarah Ashwood
Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset - Sarah Ashwood

This was one of my freebie downloads. If it isn't self-published, it's very close to it – I just checked the website for Griffineus Publications, and Sarah Ashwood appears to be the only author they publish. Anyway, whoever chose the cover artist has fabulous taste. It's too bad that I can't seem to find the artist's name listed anywhere, and that the story didn't live up to the artwork.

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset begins in our world. Almost immediately, Hannah encounters an old man named Risean Wy' Curlm, who tells her that she's the Artan, the prophesied savior of Aerisia. Then, despite her protests, he magically transports her to Aerisia, where everyone again assures her that she will save them all from the Evil. First, though, she must be Joined to her Simathe (the Joining is so important that it must always be written in italics). It takes almost half the book before someone finally tells Hannah what the Joining is, although, to be fair, she doesn't try very hard to find out. Lord Ilgard, High-Chief of the Simathe, is supposed to be her protector, but all Hannah wants is to go back home.

It took an amazingly long time for absolutely nothing to happen. Many pages were devoted to people repeatedly reassuring Hannah that she was really the Artan, while she repeatedly insisted that she was just an ordinary girl. Hannah received detailed lessons about the Spinners, the protection of Aerisia's history, and the creation of the Council, but everyone either avoided telling her about the things that really mattered, or Hannah felt too afraid to push for answers. Avoidance was Hannah's specialty. I could have screamed when she let the perfect opportunity to ask about the Joining slip by.

I knew early on that this was not going to be the best read. The writing was repetitive and lazy. The sections from Hannah's POV were written in the first person, and Ashwood didn't seem to have a good grasp of her “voice.” For example, both of these sentences are Hannah's POV:

“The color of his hair was not the normal white of dotage.” (16)

“I swear some word vomit would’ve burst out if we hadn’t reached our destination when we did.” (182)

By the way, the second sentence is referring to Hannah nearly ripping into Ilgard out of irritation and discomfort. The mental image that “word vomit” gave me did not make me feel much sympathy for her. Even so, it still fit her, a Nike-wearing college student from Colorado, better than “the normal white of dotage.”

The writing was like this throughout the entire book. Sometimes Hannah's thoughts read like those of a high fantasy character, and sometimes she sounded more like a modern day American. The latter fit her better than the former, although I hated her tendency to overuse the words “crazy,” “weird,” “stupid,” and “freaky/freaked.” The sections from Ilgard's POV were written in the third person and were much more consistent. I honestly think Ashwood would have been better off writing the entire book in the third person.

Why did I continue reading this? Well, the beginning, at least, reminded me a lot of Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms series. A seemingly ordinary girl transported to a fantasy world, where she eventually learns that she's important and potentially very powerful. It's cliched, but also my personal catnip. Unfortunately, whereas things actually happen in Ono's books, Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset felt like it plodded along forever.

Hannah's response to almost everything was to cry, pout, shout, and/or dig her heels in and absolutely refuse to do what she was told. It sometimes felt like I was reading about a giant toddler. Ashwood kept trying to hint at growing romantic feelings between Hannah and Ilgard, but Ilgard's moment of weakness, when he found himself thinking “why me?” as Hannah once again acted like a child, was far more believable. The three or so times she was almost killed were all due to her wandering away from (or purposely escaping) her guards.

I'm still not sure what everyone expected Hannah to do. She managed to use magic a grand total of once, by accident. After the Joining, instead of immediately finding a magic teacher for her, the Simathe did absolutely nothing for so long that even Hannah became impatient. Then, rather than teach her magic, they “taught” her to use a bow. The book's ending only happened because silly Hannah decided to escape the Simathe, despite having no idea where to go from there and no plan for dealing with Aerisia's various dangers.

This was when I was reminded of a worrying line in the Prophecy of the Artan: “She will be untouched by man and untainted by The Evil” (7). This seemed to indicate that the Artan needed to be a virgin. Unfortunately, I was right, and

the Evil jumped to the obvious conclusion that one of the ways to defeat the Artan was to rape her – I guess killing her would have been too easy. Hannah was saved in the nick of time, but it still irked me that rape even had to enter the picture. And, because of the way the prophecy was written, the Evil and its minions could repeatedly threaten to rape her for the rest of the trilogy. Wonderful.

(spoiler show)

I have no plans to continue reading this series.


(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-02-01 01:22
Brood of Bones by A.E. Marling
Brood of Bones - A.E. Marling

I found this while browsing through freebies. I liked the cover, but the description made the book sound like a train wreck. I admit, I downloaded it mostly out of morbid curiosity.

Hiresha is an Elder Enchantress, a woman who possesses powerful magic but can only use it in her sleep. Her sleeping disorder gives her great power as an enchantress but prevents her from achieving the life she most wants, that of a wife and mother. At the request of Sri the Flawless, she returns to Morimound, the city of her birth, only to discover that something awful has happened. Despite being in her eighties, Sri the Once Flawless is now pregnant. Not only that, so is every other woman and girl age 12 and up.

The city is in turmoil. Some, like Abwar, the Priest of the Ever Always, declare the pregnancies to be a divine gift. Others beat the women and girls, call them sluts, and feed them poisons to try to purge them of their pregnancies. As Hiresha begins her investigation, she learns horrifying things about the fetuses and finds herself having to make choices that could potentially bring even greater harm to the citizens of Morimound.

I wasn't sure, going in, how well the book's premise would work for me. It sounded incredibly bizarre. Marling managed to make it work, although I had to take breaks several times. The way people treated the women and girls was almost uniformly awful, the fetuses themselves were little abominations, and the villain was vile.

The things I turned out to dislike the most about this book were Marling's writing and Hiresha's drowsiness. I haven't been able to put into words what it is about Marling's writing that doesn't work for me, but Hiresha's drowsiness had a tendency to make her waking world feel surreal. She had trouble staying focused, and her clothing didn't help – in addition to wearing six dresses, she had 21 more trailing behind her, plus a golden hump strapped to her back. She moved with the aid of a cane, Janny, her maid, and Deepmand, her bodyguard. Even then, she was always one slight misstep away from landing on her face or one moment away from sweating herself into dehydration. The hump and gowns did turn out to be useful, but I'm not sure they were worth the 200+ pages they spent hampering her movements.

This book was at its best when Hiresha was asleep or in the presence of the Lord of the Feast. Sleep allowed Hiresha to enter her dream laboratory, where she could replay her memories and analyze them in the most minute detail, noting microexpressions and other things that her sluggish waking mind missed. Sleep also gave Hiresha access to her magic, which could heal terrible wounds, regrow limbs, and enchant objects and clothing. I thought that the benefits and drawbacks of her magic were well-balanced and nicely done.

Being with the Lord of the Feast had similar effects on Hiresha. Something about him (maybe instinctual self-preservation?) flooded Hiresha's system with adrenaline, which allowed her to observe the world at the same level as when she was asleep. Hiresha's conversations with him were usually a lot of fun. Unfortunately, he didn't show up until about halfway through the book. Also, he brought with him a discomfiting possible romantic subplot. He was way too obviously Hiresha's future tragic and dangerous vampire boyfriend (well, not a vampire in the traditional sense – he could create and feed upon fear – but close).

I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to continue reading this series.


Rating Note:


During the first half of this book, I disliked Marling's writing so much that I thought this would be a 2-star read. The pace picked up in the second half, and the Lord of the Feast really did make things better, leaving me torn between 2.5 stars and 3. I settled on 3 because, in the end, I can't decide whether I liked or disliked Brood of Bones.


(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-09-16 15:13
Upon a Midnight Clear by Ian Thomas Healy
Upon a Midnight Clear - Ian Thomas Healy

I usually pass short stories by anymore, even free ones, but I was in a downloading mood. This was free and was tagged with “artificial intelligence.” It didn't really work for the reason I downloaded it, but it was an okay short story.

A prospector named Rob Stabler is out working in the Asteroid Belt when he sees a flash of light. It might be a ship in trouble, so Stabler, as the closest prospector available, opts to go to it first while the other prospectors in the area join him ASAP.

I had hoped this would be a story about artificial intelligence, but it wasn't. Stabler brought up “Turings” occasionally. One of the other prospectors married his, but Stabler had no such feelings for Mona, his own ship's onboard Turing. Mona had a speaking role, but she and Stabler don't really chitchat, and her being an AI wasn't hugely important.

This sci-fi Christmas story was actually more about alien life. It got a bit too cutesie for me (seriously, Stabler, that's what you're going to call it?), and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen later. The cynical part of me doubted that it would be anything good, but the story itself would probably best be called heartwarming.

I never really know what to say about short stories. It was okay, and Healy's descriptions of Stabler's life were pretty good. The image I had in my head was actually a lot like the life of a trucker – lonely, smelly, and cramped, with something that reminded me of CB radio allowing for a loose connection between the nearby prospectors.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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